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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Joseph Xavier Boniface Saintine (1798–1865)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
SAINTINE, the author of the familiar classic ‘Picciola,’ was in many respects a fortunate man. He was endowed with a contagious optimism, which made him friends and brought him success. From his earliest efforts in authorship, he won readers by the cheering spirit of his pages and his refined sympathy with his fellows. He had no long apprenticeship of failure. His first work, entitled ‘Bonheur de l’Étude,’ brought him a prize from the French Academy when he was only twenty-one. Two years later he received a second prize from the Academy, for a discourse upon mutual instruction. A volume of pleasing verse—‘Poésies’—appeared in 1823, which was characterized by the fresh romantic spirit, kept within bounds by classical influences.  1
  Saintine was a contributor to many journals; among them the Revue de Paris, the Siècle, the Constitutionnel, and La Revue Contemporaine. He did some interesting historical work,—‘Histoire des Guerres d’Italie’; and made a study of German folk-lore,—‘Mythologie du Rhin’: but he was best known for his stories. ‘Seul,’ one of the most interesting, is the story, simply and vividly told, of Alexander Selkirk, the original of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.  2
  But by far his most famous work was ‘Picciola,’ which brought him more fame and more money than all the others. It has been republished more than forty times, and translated into many languages, and is still a favorite everywhere. The Academy awarded it the Montyon prize of three thousand francs, and decorated its author with the cross of the Legion of Honor. The story is exquisitely told,—of the rich and scholarly but blasé young nobleman, who, while a State prisoner in the fortress of Fenestrella, finds a little plant springing between the paving-stones of his court, watches it, loves it, makes it his companion, and is gradually regenerated by its revelation to him of natural and divine law. Picciola the plant becomes to him Picciola the ideal maiden of his heart and imagination. There is a charming love tale too. Thérèse, a beautiful unselfish girl, is watching over her father, who is also a prisoner. Picciola is likely to die unless the paving-stones pressing on her stem are removed. It is Thérèse who takes charge of the Count’s despairing petition to Napoleon. After the gloom and suffering comes the happy ending. In this book, Saintine’s own love of nature is revealed in delicate descriptive touches.  3
  For a Parisian—he was born at Paris in 1798, and died there in 1865—he had an unusual sympathy with nature. His mind had a healthy turn toward all that was alive and growing, and hence the high moral tone and nobility of his work. He was a man whose vigorous appreciation of life was refined and strengthened by education. He was acquainted with books, and versed in natural science; and he wrote with scholarly finish as well as with spontaneity.  4
  To read the touching story of Picciola makes it seem incongruous to think of Saintine as a humorist. Yet with the pseudonym of “Xavier” he was a comic dramatist of great popularity. In collaboration with leading writers of vaudeville, he composed over two hundred such works. ‘Julien’ and ‘L’Ours et le Pacha,’ witty vaudevilles written with Eugène Scribe, were particularly brilliant successes.  5
  In his old age Saintine gave up writing, and passed a peaceful happy leisure, with abundant means and surrounded by friends.  6
 
 
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